ISRAEL – On April 4, 2018, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, announced in a statement the forthcoming creation of a personal parish for migrants and refugees in Israel. Father Rafic Nahra, the current coordinator for the pastoral among migrants, explains in an interview with the Media Office the reasons for this creation. – Father Rafic, while there was already the Coordination for the Pastoral of Migrants, how did the idea of the erection of this personal parish come about?
It is true that the Coordination, created in 2011, already allowed a good work of coordination between the different communities, a coordination between these communities and the local Church, the establishment of links with NGOs, the common search of places to allow the different communities to gather together to pray and the creation of places such as the Our Lady of Valor in South of Tel-Aviv which functions as a place of worship and also offers social and pastoral activities to migrants and asylum seekers. And yet we were not able to answer all the requests – or at least simply answer them – when it came to sacramental registration, for example. The solution has come from Canon Law. We were thinking of ways to counter this difficulty and we discovered that the Church had imagined special situations such as the presence of faithful who cannot for one reason or another join the parishes and for which it is possible to create a personal parish. The parish will allow us especially to accommodate without difficulty requests for sacraments that are – as in many places – one of the gateways to the Church.
– What does a personal parish mean?
This is the term used in Canon Law to speak of a parish that is not defined by the territory. The legal text says: “As a rule, the parish will be territorial, that is to say it will include all the faithful of the given territory; but where it is useful, will be constituted of personal parishes, determined by the rite, the language, the nationality of the faithful of a territory, and still for any other reason.” (Canon 518) We are therefore very much in this context: the faithful concerned do not speak, for a large part, the local languages and they have a culture totally different from that of the faithful of the parishes of our diocese. It is therefore necessary to create a proper ecclesial entity but fully attached to the diocese. This will be the role of the Episcopal Vicar who will soon be appointed: he will represent the Archbishop and will act directly in communion with the Diocesan Curia but will have the pastoral charge of the faithful meeting the criteria determined for this parish.
– Can you tell us more about the faithful of this future personal parish?
It is about 60,000 faithful, half of whom are from the Philippines. The other communities are Indians, Sri Lankans and Eritreans. Other communities are also present but in smaller numbers: French-speaking Africans, Romanians and Poles. Migrants are people who, for the most part, have fled difficult economic situations in their home country and have come for work in Israel. Asylum seekers have fled war or dictatorship and currently have no confidence in their future in Israel.
But despite these really difficult living conditions, like everyone else, they have a life of faith, they get married and some have children. And it is the mission of the Church to accompany them where they are and with what they are.
– What will happen on May 20?
Nothing sensational! This is the date that was chosen to erect the personal parish but it will not create a big change every day. The Vicar will be appointed in the coming weeks, and we still have to work with Archbishop Pizzaballa to detail the functioning of the parish.
But from this date, it will be especially easier administratively to accompany the faithful in their sacramental life and for us it is already a great step forward to support them in their life of faith.
Interview conducted by Cécile Klos